April 21, 2001
SCANDAL IN CATHOLIC CHURCH
A new sexual
scandal is roiling the Catholic Church. ''Sexual abuse of nuns by
priests, including rape, is a serious problem, especially in Africa''
according to a major story in the ''National Catholic Reporter'' (NCR)
published March 16.
The article was
based on four secret reports by senior members of religious orders and a
fifth by a U.S. priest who has worked in Africa on AIDS. One of the
reports was given to a Catholic cardinal in Rome back as 1995, but the
Vatican refused comment until after the NCR's page 1 story was
published. The Vatican then said church officials were aware of the
problems and ''working'' on them.
O'Donohue, a physician who worked six years as AIDS coordinator for
Catholic Fund for Overseas Development, wrote in 1994 of her ''shock and
disbelief'' at the ''magnitude'' of the problem that she documented in
23 countries, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa.
sisters from local congregations have made passionate appeals for help
to members of international congregations'' because when they complain
to local bishops they simply ''are not heard,'' O'Donohue wrote. In
fact, the Vicar General of one diocese said, ''Celibacy in the African
context means a priest does not get married but does not mean he does
not have children.''
She states that
''sexual harassment and even rape of sisters by priests and bishops is
allegedly common,'' and that ''sometimes when a sister becomes pregnant,
the priest insists that she have an abortion.'' In one case, a nun died
from the abortion and the offending priest officiated at her requiem
Mass! When the leadership team of one group of nuns complained about 29
sisters being impregnated by priests, team leaders were fired by the
If a nun becomes
pregnant, she is often fired, while the priest is ''often only moved to
another parish - or sent for studies.''
Why is the
problem acute in Africa? TIME magazine reported Feb. 12 that ''Casual
sex of every kind is commonplace. Everywhere there's premarital sex, sex
as recreation. Obligatory sex and its abusive counterpart, coercive
sex.'' TIME says women are taught from birth to obey men and feel
powerless to protect themselves.
million of the world's 36 million HIV-positive people live in Southern
Africa. Priests who had once gone to prostitutes, now seek out nuns for
sexual favors, since they are unlikely to be infected.
They use slick
lines: ''We are both consecrated celibates. That means we have promised
not to marry. However, we can have sex without breaking our vows.''
issue of the National Catholic Reporter takes the disgrace to a new
level. Africans in this country praised the accuracy of NCR's
reporting. One came from ''Laura,'' a former nun in Africa who said she
was ''overjoyed'' that public spotlight was put on the problem.
''I am a victim
of this abuse,'' she wrote. ''I saw many young nuns who are victims. I
have left my community because I became very sick as a result of my
inability to get help.''
horrifying stories about ''rampant immorality of priests.'' Unlike most
nuns she retained her virginity for 10 years by being ''very
aggressive'' with harassing priests, threatening to expose them. This
made her unpopular with priests and even with many nuns in her religious
order. Finally one priest raped her while she ''fought him throughout,''
and was traumatized by it.
A. W. Richard
Sipe, author of ''A Secret World,'' which exposed surprisingly high
sexuality by U.S. priests, wrote an article in NCR about the African
scandal. He looks in vain ''for some sign of reform from church
authorities.'' He writes, ''One word is never mentioned. Crime. Rape
(sexual abuse and harassment, too) is a crime. Collusion to cover up
crime is itself negligent and reprehensible. So is conspiratorial
silence, so is the failure to protect the endangered and warn the
innocent. Church authorities cannot plead ignorance, nor innocence.''
a. Farley, a Yale Divinity School professor, writes in NCR, ''In the
face of sexual abuse of any kind, the perpetrators must be stopped...the
care of present victims must be attended to.'' She said the church
should not ''foster the degradation and subservience of some for the
gratification of others.''
raises a more fundamental question, the efficacy of celibacy itself. The
time has come to debate that issue widely in the Catholic Church before
a new Pope is named.
consensus for reform will emerge that makes celibacy optional.
Copyright 2001 Michael J.